The Obie Awards, honoring the best of Off-and Off-Off Broadway theater, will be re-imagined as a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The annual celebration of stage work was originally scheduled to be held at Terminal 5 in Manhattan on May 18. Instead it will be postponed until a later, as yet unannounced, date.
In an interview with Variety, Heather Hitchens, president and CEO of the American Theatre Wing, one of the organizations behind the awards, said the show will include some form of performances, but cautioned that details are still being worked out. The Village Voice co-presents the honors.
“We’ve been seeing that a lot of creative things can still happen virtually,” said Hitchens. “Artists can never be stopped from creating no matter what’s happening.”
The awards are being handed out for shows that opened between May 1, 2019 and March 12, 2020, when theaters shut down amid a worsening public health crisis. The money that would have been used to put on the show will instead be sent to artists in need.
“We feel strongly that we need to honor both the incredible work that happened, as well as pay homage to what was lost,” said Hitchens.
The pandemic has scrambled the awards season calendar. The Lucille Lortel Awards, which also recognize Off-Broadway productions, will be held virtually, while the Olivier Awards and the Tony Awards will be postponed.
In addition, the American Theatre Wing is unveiling relief funds to help members of the theatrical community whose livelihoods have been threatened by COVID-19. They consist of three separate initiatives — one aimed at providing assistance to New York’s Off- and Off-Off-Broadway community of artists, the second to offer immediate funds to regional theaters, and the third to bolster educational resources that students can access remotely.
The Wing has created a $250,000 theatre artists relief fund in order to get money directly into the hands of artists. This fund is supported by the Edwin Barbey Charitable Trust and production company No Guarantees. It will grant $500 to recipients.
Regional theaters around the country have also gone dark as communities institute stay in place rules. To help them survive without revenues, Wing will be making immediate gifts, in the amount of $1,000, to 82 community theaters.
Lastly, the Wing will offer a new series of live masterclasses via Zoom and Facebook Live that will feature theater talent.
“It’s pretty clear that things aren’t going to return to normal anytime soon,” said Hitchens. “Most of these artists are freelancers. It’s a challenge for them to survive on a good day. Now it’s become even more difficult.”